Friday, 30 July 2010

The cold and the hot

One of the major attractions in San Pedro are the geysers situated in the volcanic area high above the town. At 4500 metres we were a little worried about the effect of the altitude, although that was all forgotten in the effort of dragging ourselves out of bed at 3am to get ready…

The geysers are at their most visible when it’s cold, and with the temperature hovering around minus 18 we were certain to get some great views! Having never seen this natural phenomenon before, I wasn't sure what to expect, and was startled by the sheer number of them - over seventy in total. Plumes of smoke billowed out, blown by the light wind and filling the early morning sky with pillars. The geysers here don’t spurt water (only the odd short launch like a mini firework), but the overall effect is eerie and atmospheric. And although the air was very much thinner, we didn’t experience any adverse effects from the rapid change in altitude, which was encouraging for future trips. We wandered around the area, watching as the sun rose and the colours of the surrounding peaks gradually emerged.

After spending over an hour observing the geysers steaming away, hearing how they were created and learning a little about the surrounding volcanic area, we jumped back in the bus to warm up (even with thermals and three layers we were still frozen through!), and drove a little further to some natural hot springs. By now the sun was warming the air and we could begin stripping down again, and as we headed back down towards town we caught a few glimpses of the local wildlife. A brief stop at a small village to buy a Llama kebab, and it was time to return for a quick nap.

After lunch F and I broke away from the rest of the group, having chosen to take a guided tour to the Valley of the Moon to learn about the rock formations and watch the sun set over the dunes. The whole area is a stunning site of natural activity, with rocks formed from salt crystals, curving sand dunes and 360 views across the Atacama. We climbed high into the Valley to look down across it all, as our excellent guide described the geological history of the area. We even managed to pick up a dog who accompanied us on our hike, happily overtaking us as we struggled up the thick sand and wandering confidently close to the sheer drops onto sharp rocks below.

We mounted the final hill as the sun began to set, sat in the middle of ‘death valley’, and watched the sky light up with pinks and purples before making our way back as the cold began to set in and the tiredness from the day took over.

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